Suddenly, the Morning News Cares About Minority Neighborhoods

Let's talk about sincerity. It's awfully easy to take a certain position on an issue and be sincere about it when that position happens to coincide with the interests of your boss.

We speak here of The Dallas Morning News editorial page and its campaign against scrap yards near mainly minority residential neighborhoods in southern Dallas.

For 14 years the Morning News has been a principal proponent of the Trinity River Project, a highway-building and real estate redevelopment scheme along the river in downtown and southern Dallas. In the meantime the Morning News editorial page has been especially muscular about calling for certain types of businesses to be thrown off land that they own and occupy near the river, by any means possible.

In the case I'm about to tell you about, the city and state are using eminent domain to whack off 40 percent of the land of two businesses for a road project. The owners are asking the city for permission to squeeze their operations onto the remaining land, their own land.

The News is saying hell no, here's a chance to get them by the throat. They say the city should use this technical approval process to run the scrap yards off their land entirely.

Why? Well, the editorial page is very committed to the removal of businesses it considers unsightly or corrosive of the surrounding social fabric. Near the river.

Most of those businesses also probably have the effect of holding down land values and making redevelopment of the area along the river more problematic. In particular the News' editorial page has settled on recycling yards as engines of oppression.

Wait. Am I in favor of scrap yards near minority neighborhoods? Good question. Before I answer, let me point out a couple things.

First of all, the News' editorial page has suggested repeatedly that the recycling yards near the river must be moved because of their damaging effect on nearby minority neighborhoods, but whenever they come up with a suggested relocation site, it's always in the southern Dallas "Inland Port" area where the yards would be near other minority neighborhoods.

So I don't think it's the minority neighborhoods they want the yards moved away from. I think they want the yards moved away from the river.

Gold Metal Recyclers and Okon Metals are recycling yards—scrap yards—in southern Dallas between the river and South Lamar Street. The state is going to take almost half their land for a much-needed project to rebuild a dangerous highway.

Both businesses operate under tight restrictions dictating where they can place each element of their operations on their own land. Months ago they went to the city and asked for permission to move the things from the land they are about to lose, relocating them to the land they will be able to keep, closer to Lamar Street.

This is what the News said in an editorial about it on June 1:

"The problem is, people live directly across Lamar in poor neighborhoods, and many feel the scrap yard owners don't have their best interests at heart. The more than 100 homes that will be affected are occupied by politically powerless people, many of whom lived there decades before the scrap yards opened.

"These residents have rights that have been repeatedly ignored by City Council and Plan Commission decision makers, who for decades saw no problem placing noisy, ugly and polluting heavy-industrial businesses in the midst of homes."

OK, I'm a bleeding heart, right? How can I not be racing around in circles barking like a dog at this very moment? They've painted it so well: the dirty recycling businesses are ruining the lives of "politically powerless" people who have been "repeatedly ignored" by City Hall. It's my kind of red meat, and they've served it up on a sesame bun with salad on the side. But look, I say the problem is not what the News says it is. The problem is the News.

At the end of last week I attended the City Plan Commission hearing where all of this was considered. Half of the 250-seat city council chamber, where the plan commission meets, was filled by residents of the neighborhoods around the recycling yards, many of whom were also employees of the scrap yards.

Several of those employees got up and made speeches to the plan commission praising the owners of the yards for providing more than 300 good jobs in an area of high unemployment.

But let's be cynical. Let's say they were only doing what I have accused the Morning News editorial page writers of doing: sucking up to their bosses. Here is the part that dumbfounded me:

From that crowd of more than 100 residents, not one person rose to speak against the scrap yards. Not a single person. That just does not comport with my experience of politically powerless Americans who have been ignored. Usually once you get those folks to within 10 yards of a podium, they have a lot of saved-up stuff to tell you, including where you can put it.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze